Approaching the end of the 17th century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “It is that deceitful part in man, that mistress of error and falsity, the more deceptive that she is not always so; for she would be an infallible rule of truth, if she were an infallible rule of falsehood. But being most generally false, she gives no sign of her nature, impressing the same character on the true and the false.”
As compelling it might be to conclude to the contrary, Pascal pondered not of the unhinged femme fatale, whose words can only be trusted for the falsity they do pronounce. Rather, Pascal wrote of the inherent unreliability of one’s own imagination and wondering.
In short terms, Pascal’s theory runs along the line that while imagination is one of the most forceful and persuasive powers within people, it is but also one of the cardinal sources of human error. What complicates the equation of course is that, while imagination does most often lead to falsehood (a sort of Golden Book, playing on loop between the ears); very occasionally what transpires in our imagination does end up happening. Thus one’s imagination can’t in a straightforward sense be used as a source of certainty, by trusting its negation.
So, the word according to Pascal: don’t trust your thoughts; but don’t absolutely dismiss them either.
Now, if it’s mid-January, with The Ashes vision of Steve Smith cradling a plastic replica of the urn now but a fading memory, then SURELY the time is nigh for that other annual sporting tradition du mois: boggle-eyed imagination about how the universe might explode if an n actually earned the right to hoist aloft the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup or the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup (AKA the n Open tennis trophies).
If Bernard Tomic exudes the required level of intestinal fortitude necessary to qualify for the main draw of the year’s first Grand Slam (it’s a big “IF” – he of the yellow Lambo, and a bank balance with apparently more zeros than Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions might’ve already been bounced out of qualifying before ink is spilt publishing this column) it’s difficult to imagine he’ll progress anywhere within the vicinity of the deep end of the tournament.
And that’s sad, however you look at it – Tomic needn’t love tennis any more than I need love what I do for a living. But passion and pride does tend to assist. Talent alone isn’t sufficient, regardless as to how astonishingly skilled Tomic might be.
Yet the imagination is, as Pascal opined, anything but an infallible rule of truth. Just ask Rob “Voltage” Cross, who last week won the World Darts Championships over the 16-time winner Phil “The Power” Taylor”. Cross started the tournament trading as a 200-1 outsider on Betfair; 12 months ago he watched the same tournament from a bar stool, munching on Doritos and guzzling Carlsberg.
It would’ve been an exercise in the almighty inconceivable to have imagined, even a month ago, that Cross would become world champion. Back then Cross was a hard-toiling electrician by day – (hence the “Voltage” – playing pub darts, very well, so it would seem). Such is the glorious uncertainty of sport.
And what to imagine vis-a-vis the prospects of Ashleigh Barty’s name being etched onto the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup? The native of Queensland is ranked the 17th best player in the world. A season of Big Bash cricket for the Brisbane Heat a couple of years back – if ever there was an antithesis, to the relentless grind of professional tennis – seems maybe to have been the catalyst for Barty’s progression.
Barty’s success in season 2017 was a standout. No n woman has won the n Open since the feats of the unseeded Christine O’Neil in 1978 (there’s a trivia question for another day). It isn’t inconceivable to imagine Ashleigh Barty reversing a four-decade trend. But to imagine is one thing …
Following Mark Edmondson’s unlikely triumph at the n Open in 1976 when ranked outside the world’s top 200 players, just three n men – Pat Cash, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt – have collected Grand Slam trophies. The last of those triumphs being Hewitt’s Wimbledon crowning glory at The All England Club – 16 long years ago. Now, just like compatriot Ashleigh Barty, Nick Kyrgios presently sits at 17 in the world rankings. Just a few days ago, Kyrgios won the Brisbane International – his first ATP tour title secured standing on Terra Australis. Can you just imagine, Kyrgios hoisting a trophy aloft in a fortnight’s time?!?!?!
Breakout 2017: Ashleigh Barty. Photo: AP
Indeed is it even right to imagine, that 2018 might be the year Kyrgios delivers on what he has teased us about for the last quadrennium? Nick Kyrgios fascinates me like few athletes do: he’s a curious tomcat. And he’s the one I’d like to see etch his name in history.
Three years ago I wrote of Kyrgios that he “is a phenomenon the likes of which tennis hasn’t seen for quite some time. Quite the opposite of his native Canberra – the physique of Bambi, cloaked in Day-Glo clothes. Jangly gold chains that’d pique Mr T’s envy; eyebrows sculpted beyond explanation. An inferno of raw talent; mercurial, possessed of a kind of arrogance that belies a certain charm. Explosive racquet smashing; and a repertoire of swear words so immense Kyrgios would win a starring role in any Reservoir Dogs sequel.
Two years ago, after Kyrgios roundly bottled it and ran away from any Olympic selection fracas for the Rio Games before the n Olympic Committee had the opportunity to refuse his selection on good character grounds, I wrote of him that he “scurried away, like a coward”. Like a coward, because Kyrgios knew full well the AOC wouldn’t cop his nonsense, lest that acquiescence be tantamount to giving a green light to the other 450-odd n athletes.
One year ago I moaned on this very page, as to how Kyrgios could be feted simply for mooching around backstage at a Sydney tennis tournament wearing a T-shirt. A shirt plastered with a frightening, gigantic headshot of Donald Trump in a state of uber-smug afterglow, replete with devil horns, scratched-out eyes and underlined with a call to arms to “F… Donald Trump”. While I can’t under any circumstances argue with the sentiment, the method of delivery belies the importance of the message.
This year, with the n Open starting on Monday, I’d like to simply imagine. I’d like to imagine that Nick Kyrgios remains in the headlines to the end of January. Remain in the headlines, but not because he goes all frog-in-a-sock psychotic at young ball boys and girls; not because he blowtorches an umpire because of the latter’s “unbelievable bias” (two years on from the 2016 French Open, when Kyrgios made precisely that accusation, I’m still to have someone answer me as to what constitutes “believable” bias).
This year, I want to imagine that Kyrgios stays on the train to the end, in spite of the injuries and the tantrums and everything else – and because of his outrageous, spectacular talents. I want to imagine, that Nick Kyrgios finally delivers on the perhaps unlimited potential that those most knowledgeable about the game. But, ARRGGGGHHHH … if only the imagination was enough, by itself.